This weekend, amorous Italians will return to the French Quarter for the 45th annual Italian-American Marching Club’s St. Joseph’s Parade and other festivities. The events honor St. Joseph, whose feast day is March 19.
The celebrations begin at noon on Friday, with a presentation of the “World’s Largest Pasta Dish,” holding pasta con sardi — a traditional St. Joseph’s Day dish. The feast is followed by a parade on Saturday, which weaves through the French Quarter.
“The whole Quarter comes out to celebrate,” said Judge Anthony Russo, co-founder of the Italian-American Marching Club. “Everyone in the Quarter, all of the sudden, is Italian-American.”
James “Jimmy” Darren, known for his presence in Annette Funicello movies, will be the grand marshal. The parade features nearly 20 floats, separated by bands. But unlike Mardi Gras floats, these vessels only carry elegantly dressed, Italian-American maids.
“They don’t throw trinkets or beads,” Russo said. “They simply throw waves and smiles.”
The St. Joseph’s Altar float carries traditional “altar” food, which is later given to the homeless. The floats are trailed by nearly 300 tuxedo-clad marchers carrying paper roses, which they give in exchange for a kiss.
The men also distribute Italy-inspired beads and fava (lucky) beans, which saved the Sicilians during the famine at the turn of the 20th century.
“You only have luck for one year, so you get a new (bean) every year at the parade,” Russo said. “Otherwise, you’re just carrying a bean in your pocket.”
Russo, who has been with the IAMC since it was established in 1970, will ride on a “Roman chariot” pulled by a motorcycle.
“At one time, it wasn’t very popular to be an Italian-American in the United States,” Russo said. “That’s one of the things that prompted this parade. We wanted to express to everyone that we were proud to be an Italian-American.”